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The Life & Times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

EARLY-LIFEThe Life & Times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Compiled and submitted by Elijah Manley and Charles Moseley

Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King’s father was born “Michael King,” and Martin Luther King, Jr., was originally named “Michael King, Jr.,” until the family traveled to Europe in 1934 and visited Germany. His father soon changed both of their names to Martin in honor of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther.

He had an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother Alfred Daniel Williams King. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.

As a child Dr. King was attracted to words and those who spoke eloquently.  His father is quoted as saying that as a child, “if he heard that some outstanding man was going to speak, he would ask me to take him.

I remember after on such occasion when he was only about 10, he said, “That man had some big words, Daddy.  When I grow up I’m going to get me some big words.”  As soon as he could read, he lived in dictionaries, and he made that saying come true.

King almost seemed to be obsessed with good preachers.  One of King’s early influences was Rev. William Holmes Borders.  King was so intrigued with Borders he would even “sneak down occasionally to Wheat Street Baptist Church, located a few blocks from his home on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue, to listen to Pastor Borders.” William Borders himself was an educated man.  Borders attended Morehouse.


Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. He skipped ninth and twelfth grade, and entered Morehouse College at age 15 without formally graduating from high schools. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. King then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Doctor of Philosophy on June 5, 1955. A 1980s inquiry concluded portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly but that his dissertation still “makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship.”

FAMILY & MARRAIGE — King married Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents’ house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. King and Scott had four children: Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he was twenty-five years old in 1954.

His father is Martin Luther King Sr. (1899-1984), a pastor. His mother, Alberta Williams King (1904-1974), was a former schoolteacher. Young Martin had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. Michael King, Sr. came from a sharecropper family in a poor farming community. He married Alberta in 1926 after an eight-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to A.D. Williams’ home in Atlanta.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.


Before he became one of the most respected civil rights leaders in American history, Martin Luther King Jr. honed his orating skills as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (now Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) from 1954 to 1960. In the short video below, take a look inside his church and meet two people who knew him from his days as pastor there. While accepting my call to ministry I’ve struggled with the idea of preaching.   For someone whose voice is monotone and overall demeanor is laid back, I often question whether or not I would able to deliver a sermon affectively, especially in the Black church.  In the Black church, along with the word from God it almost seems that whooping is expected from the congregants and without it a sermon would be deemed ineffective by them.  In searching for a powerful preacher whose delivery wasn’t what I considered norm I was lead to Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most affective preachers and leaders the world may have ever seen.

W.E.B. Du Bois was quoted to say “the Preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil.  A leader, a politician, an orator, a ‘boss,’ an intriguer, an idealist-,” and King displayed all of these attributes in his preaching and speech giving. What was unique about King was that he was able to preach in a way that transcended race and styles that not only his fellow African Americans would be familiar with.   In the following paragraphs I will speak of some of the people who in-fluenced Martin Luther King Jr.  I will also go on to describe how King composed and delivered his sermons and speeches. King being a third generation preacher had all of this in his makeup.   His maternal great-grand-father Rev. A.D. Williams was a spiritual leader for the slave community later leading ex-slaves in Green County Georgia. After completing his bachelor’s degree, he would go on to attend Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern poems.” Dr. King would be exposed to leaders like this throughout his childhood.  A list of well-known ministers with graceful styles were constant visitors not only at his father’s Auburn Avenue church but in the King house hold.  They included “Sandy F. Ray, Joseph H. Jackson, Mordecai Johnson, Benjamin E. Mays, J. Pius Barbour, William H. Hester, James T. Boddie, Gardner C. Taylor, Howard Thurman, Lucius M. Tobin and Samuel W. Williams.” King would aspire to be well rounded and educated like those he was exposed to during his childhood

Call to Activism

On the night of January 27, 1956, when he was just 27 years old, Martin Luther King Jr. received a threatening phone call that would change his life forever. Get a glimpse inside Dr. King’s family home, and hear about a pivotal moment he experienced there that would lead him to face his fears and stand up for justice.

In his first major civil rights action, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was arrested and spent the night in jail. As a result, Martin helped to organize a boycott of the public transportation system in Montgomery. The boycott lasted for over a year. It was very tense at times. Martin was arrested and his house was bombed. In the end, however, Martin prevailed and segregation on the Montgomery buses came to an end. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to organize the famous “March on Washington”. Over 250,000 people attended this march in an effort to show the importance of civil rights legislation. Some of the issues the march hoped to accomplish included an end to segregation in public schools, protection from police abuse, and to get laws passed that would prevent discrimination in employment. It was at this march where Mar-tin gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech has become one of the most famous speeches in history. The March on Washington was a great success. The Civil Rights Act was passed a year later in 1964. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4. 1968 in Memphis, TN. While standing on the balcony of his hotel, he was shot by James Earl Ray.


In early April 1968, shock waves reverberated around the world with the news that U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. A Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King had led the civil rights movement since the mid-1950s, using a combination of powerful words and non-violent tactics such as sit-ins, boycotts and protest marches (including the massive March on Washington in 1963) to fight segregation and achieve significant civil and voting rights advances for African Americans. His assassination led to an outpouring of anger among Black Americans, as well as a period of national mourning that helped speed the way for an equal housing bill that would be the last significant legislative achievement of the civil rights era. Just after 6 p.m. the following day, King was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where he and associates were staying, when a sniper’s bullet struck him in the neck. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later, at the age of 39.

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